Time to end painful queue, returns and changing room dramas

Zara in the UK introduced self-service in some of its London flagship sites earlier in 2018, as the fashion retailer upgraded its showcase store to highlight its technological and customer service prowess.

Its Westfield Stratford City store, in isolation, has been touted as a place where the digital meets the physical in retail, and it caused quite a stir when it opened in May.

The Inditex brand, which already runs several tech-focused stores of this nature in its Spanish heartlands, said the east London shop aimed to enhance the in-store shopping experience by including automated order collection points, self-checkout facilities and mobile payment systems.

It could be a tipping point in UK fashion retail because where Zara – the global market leader in fast fashion retail in terms of scale and sales – leads, others tends to follow. And the introduction of new tech has been done with solving key customer pain points in mind – like any good tech strategy should be when it gets rolled out.

Distinguishing fashion pain points

Talking generally, the issues that disrupt a fashion shopper’s journey more than most tend to be large queues, poor changing room experiences, and – increasingly, it seems – product return problems.

With Zara’s new concept store, you can see a retailer trying to alleviate many of these problematic areas. Everything it is doing and all the features it has implemented are oriented towards creating the “seamless, convenient and enjoyable shopping experience” the team set out to deliver at the outset.

The self-service element come into its own both at non-peak times, allowing customers to take advantage of better checkout availability to avoid any queues that may form at times when staff are not manning the tills as frequently as they would in rush hours, where a more efficient checkout mix provides quicker throughput at the checkouts. While the installed interactive mirrors, equipped with RFID, provide multiple benefits too including a more informed checkout experience and better customer experience

The technology, which is attached to labels on the clothing, detects the garment a customer is holding, automatically then displaying that item on the changing room mirror screen to allow the shopper to see what the complete outfit will look like before they’ve even tried it on.

Zara staff with iPads are also on hand to aid customers on the shop floor and accept payments, while visitors can pay for goods using their mobile phones via the Zara app or the Inditex app, InWallet. All in all, it has been set up to allow shoppers to interact in a way that suits them.

The art of the possible

With Zara moving in the right direction to show the art of the possible in London, building on the tech-enabled stores it and its sister brands such as Bershka operate in Spain, the scene has been set for other fast fashion players to follow suit. You can imagine the likes of H&M, Uniqlo, and Gap offering similar concepts in their UK stores – each of them have been very open to introducing in-store, customer-facing tech in the past.

But no fashion in-store technology ecosystem would be complete today without a nod to product returns management, and Zara’s store has built-in areas where people can easily return products they don’t want and receive their refund accordingly.

In fact, this type of technology was very much evident at a recent event hosted by Diebold Nixdorf in London, where with the help of an array of key technology partners, visitors were able to investigate how the different technologies can all fit together in a modern fashion store.

The so-called ‘TechStyle’ pop-up, mock-up shop in Holborn highlighted Doddle’s returns pod, Pyramid’s touchscreens, and Tyco Retail Solutions’ RFID-linked software in action. There was also evidence of how Ecrebo’s point of sale marketing software, Zebra’s handheld devices, and Detego’s magic mirror software can all be combined to help enhance in-store customer satisfaction and retailer operational efficiency.

Self-service in fashion is probably where grocery was with self-service around a decade ago. It’s helped transform the layout of supermarkets, reduce queues, and give shoppers in-store autonomy – now there’s a chance for it to have a similar impact for those purchasing apparel and DN is perfectly places with its new fashion-centric self-serve solution to provide all the benefits to fashion, grocery have been capitalising on for years

Its potential growth in usage is just one of many ways the fashion store of the future will use technology to solve long standing customer pain points. And that’s got to be the key; whatever technology is being introduced, it needs to be implemented because it drives customer benefits.

By Matthew Redwood, Head of Self-Service EMEA at  Diebold Nixdorf

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